Music unlocks Alzheimers

Working with Alzheimer’s patients on a daily basis I constantly see the effects music has on those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

A couple of my favorite stories include:

1. The lady that had terrible flashbacks. Yet, I could calm her with music. She may not

Where words fail music speaks

Where words fail music speaks

remember family members but she could sing the words to many hymns and oldies that she’d sung over the years. Sometimes on verses she would forget the words and clap her hands and hum before coming in on the chorus.

2. Another lady who rarely spoke. She would clap her hands with glee when we had a sing-a-long. However, every time we sung Jesus Loves Me and You Are My Sunshine she would sing with us.

3. The man who would sing loudly with the hymns he’d sung for so long, but often was confused and faltered otherwise.

Music expresses that on which it is impossible to keep silent

Music expresses that on which it is impossible to keep silent

4. The retired missionary who would use body percussion to express himself. As the disease progressed his ability to sing the old hymns regressed. But upon seeing me he would make the sound to play the piano, would express himself with body percussion on and off all days and could still sing Jesus Loves Me in Swahili with his children.

These are just a couple of the many examples I could share about the power of music.

So, why does music affect those with Alzheimer’s in such a positive manner?

According to Neurologists at the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center there are two reasons.

1. Emotional Content—we store our emotional memories. A song will pull on those

What do you hear when you listen to music?

What do you hear when you listen to music?

emotional heartstrings and trigger those memories. This is why some songs are able to elicit such a strong reaction, while others can’t. All of this is part of the soundtrack of our lives.

2. We store knowledge as a “procedural memory” which is associated with routines and repetitive activities. While dementia destroys memories that are related to specific events in our lives known as “episodic memory” those memories related to procedural memory remain largely intact.

A researcher Simmons-Stern said what they know is this: “Every patient, and pretty much anyone, could benefit from having more music in their lives.”

I stumbled across a quote that said it best, “The best time machine is a song.”

How have you seen music break through Alzheimer’s?


This video from Music and Memory shows how music unlocks the memories of a man with Alzheimer’s

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